An internet or cyber addiction can be difficult to determine, as it is not always easy to know when your compulsions are getting the best of you. First recognized in 1995 by Dr. Ivan Goldberg, a New York psychiatrist, is broadly defined as “A maladaptive pattern of Internet use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress”.
In simpler terms, it’s an impulse control problem that generally manifests itself with issues related to internet use on your computer or mobile devices. The common term for this behavior is Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) although it is not officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and there are currently no standardized criteria being used to diagnose an internet addiction.
Who Is At Risk?
As of 2019; out of a global population of 7.6 billion inhabitants, 3.2 billion people or almost half of the world’s population is online. The world’s internet users spend 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day and for the majority of people, this is a harmless and even uneventful pursuit that helps people to stay connected and conduct business in a manner that was never possible just a few decades ago. However, there is a more insidious side to our dependence on social media that can have serious side effects and dire consequences.
There are many salacious stories out there about teenagers in internet cafes going for days without sleeping and wearing diapers while playing video games, or even the story of the “web junkie” in China who tried to chopped off his hand to cure his internet addiction.
While these are extreme examples, it’s easy to lose control and find yourself in an unhealthy relationship with technology. It’s not really about how much time you spend o the internet, its more about the way it makes you feel and how it impacts your relationships with others in the world around you.
Many experts believe that several factors play a role in the development of an internet addiction including underlying mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, or if you suffer from another addiction such as substance abuse or an eating disorder. A genetic predisposition coupled with environmental stressors can also play a significant role in determining whether you will develop IAD. Mental Health America researchers have identified 5 subcategories of specific types of computer and internet addictions that most commonly affect individuals. These are:
- Cyber-sexual: Cybersex and Internet porn
- Net Compulsions: Online gambling, shopping, or stock trading
- Cyber-relationships: Social media, online dating, and other virtual communication
- Gaming: Online game playing
- Information Seeking: Web surfing or database searches
The Global Grip
More research than ever has been done in recent years as many mental health counselors, and doctors report an increase in the number of individuals they treat who are suffering from IAD. Published in 2010, Internet Addiction: A Handbook and Guide to Evaluation and Treatment estimated that more than 18 % of college-aged internet users may be addicted while the “American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse” found internet addiction to be as high as 8.2% in another study that same year. This is further supported by a 2018 Technology and Society study that estimated over 210 million people worldwide suffer from internet and social media addictions worldwide with some reports suggesting that up to 38% of the population in Europe and America may be at risk.
Because technology is so easily accessible and inexpensive to access, it is not surprising that people everywhere are being affected. The Daily Mail, published data that claimed 7.1% of Asia is addicted to the internet including 24 million people in China, while a 2014-15 survey reported the prevalence of internet addiction at 10.6% for Tawain and 11% for South Korea.
What Are The Symptoms?
Just like someone who suffers from a substance abuse disorder that has both physical and emotional symptoms, the same is true for those with an internet addiction disorder. While you may not experience everything on the list, it is not unusual for symptoms to increase or decrease in relation to what is happening in your life. There is also some research that suggests that those with IAD average a lifetime rate of suicide attempts that is 23% higher than the general population.
Some of the emotional and physical symptoms of IAD may include:
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of Euphoria when using the Computer
- Inability to Prioritize or Keep Schedules
- No Sense of Time
- Avoidance of Work
- Mood Swings
- Boredom with Routine Tasks
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Poor Nutrition (failing to eat or eating in excessively to avoid being away from the computer)
- Poor Personal Hygiene (e.g., not bathing to stay online)
- Neck Pain
- Dry Eyes and other Vision Problems
- Weight Gain or Loss
What Are The Treatment Options?
As with any addiction, the first step to the road to recovery is recognizing that you have a problem and then asking for help. The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction (CITA) developed a series of helpful screening tools that you can use to gauge if you or someone you care about has a cyber addiction that may require treatment. You can click on the links below and test yourself for free with the online quizzes by CITA.
AID is can be hard to diagnose, as it often hides in plain sight, but the ramifications of not addressing the addictive, compulsive and impulsive behaviors around your internet use can be life-altering. It’s never easy to talk to someone about your addiction, but it can be worth the effort. If you feel like you can see yourself in this article, or know someone who fits this profile, then please contact the professionals at The River Rehab for a free assessment and explore what treatment options are available for you.